Mortals All, by Bruce Golden

mortals-all-by-bruce-golden coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Shaman Press
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Darlene Hoffman

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A futuristic love story with a backdrop concerning the civil rights of artificially-created humans is at the center of Mortals All (Shaman Press), but there are many layers to this book. On the surface, the plot, which involves “Blade Runneresque” tracers who hunt rogue “andrones,” and a religious figure with political ambitions, may seem rather pedestrian. But what’s special about this novel are the characters, which are real down to their smallest insecurities and quirkiest habits, even when they’re artificially created andrones.

The scenes when the on-the-make human, Zachariah Starr, teaches the female androne, Mary 79, about sex are both sensual and humorous. The entire book is actually tinted with satire–though the humor is subtle, not overt. When this pair’s relationship evolves into something greater than lust, this story really begins to grab you by the soul. Mary learns from Zach what it means to be human, while he learns from her what love is, and, more important, can be.

In addition to the lovers, there’s the Jeserite reverend, Jackson Roberts, (Jeserite = Jesse?+Jackson?) with a secret past that could topple his run for the world senate. That secret past has a connection to Mary, which is only totally revealed in the climax.

A dynamic presence whenever he enters a scene is Jon 155, the reluctant leader of the rogue andrones who once was the greatest athlete of a brutal sport called “The Gauntlet.” A poet in a warrior’s body, he learns from Mary much of what her experiences with Zach have taught her, creating a kind of chain reaction of human experience.

There’s also the church proctor who doesn’t let his obsessive-compulsive fastidiousness interfere with his investigation, and the neutral (androgynous) androne who hunts Mary, but begins to question his own existence.

Golden (writing his first novel after a long journalism career according to his bio) deftly uses first person to take us inside the heads of each character. It’s an unusual style, but one that works-partly because of his gift for writing dialogue.

Besides the whodunit aspects of the book, its most interesting facet is the way the author deals with the idea of human rights for these artificially created humans. It’s the age-old issue of slavery seen in a creche tank light. However, though he poses many questions related to the civil rights of these sentient beings, he doesn’t answer them all. (Could this mean a sequel? The ending is set up to provide one.)

This is not a book for hard science fiction fans. Other than the andrones, some minor futuristic inventions, and travel within the solar system, there’s not a lot of science fiction hardware here. This is a character study that happens to take place more than a hundred years in the future. Much of it is reminiscent of Heinlein’s works. Some may read it and think “Well, this and this have been done before.” True to an extent, and maybe there are no great innovations in this novel, but I don’t think what is here has been done quite this way before.

This is science fiction with heart, and a story that will make you think as it entertains. I know I couldn’t put it down, and when it ended, I wanted still more.

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